Walking the Plank to Leadership

Reliance is the heart of trust. For a team to be dynamic, its members of a team must implicitly and fully rely upon each other to complete the tasks that are essential to performance of the team’s mission.

Think of it like using a rickety footbridge to cross a deep gorge; one must be confident in the ability of the bridge to bear one’s weight before one steps out into the open. Similarly, confidence in each other -- and the team’s reliance on its leader to get the job done -- gives a group the ability to move forward into the unknown.

This reliance and trust comes from team members seeing their leader in action under stress.

Around my third week of Ranger School, the instructors marched us to a pond in the outback of Fort Benning, Georgia. In the water was a narrow ladder that ascended 40 feet to a 4x4 plank that extended 40 feet above and across the pond, with a rope at the other end.

The idea was to climb the ladder, walk the plank and drop from the rope into the water, which was nasty and cold. There was no safety line—if you fell, you fell. It was dirty and dangerous. And, although the task would have been easily accomplished were the plank a mere 5 feet over the water, walking that 40 feet of plank 40 feet above the water was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. What only took about 2 minutes to complete felt like 2 hours.

In truth, I didn’t want to do it. I’m certain that very few of my fellow Ranger School students wanted to do it either. Some of the men, maybe 5%, didn’t do it.  They wanted to graduate from Ranger School just as much as the rest of us, but something within them just would not let them climb that ladder, walk that plank and drop into that water. The stress was too much.

The others -- the ones who were able to overcome the dirt, danger and difficulty -- learned something about ourselves and each other that dramatically strengthened the trust between us. It only took 2 minutes, but such is the power of difficult things to bond teams together.

The Iron Project has an acronym for the dirty and difficult things we do to build trust. We call them CSAUPs, which stands for Completely Stupid And Utterly Pointless. This is a little bit of an inside joke on our part, because a CSAUP is actually neither stupid nor pointless. It is a very efficient way to build trust.

A CSAUP can be any challenge that provides the opportunity for a team to sweat together and work through difficulties. The nature of the event is not important. What matters is that the leader uses the CSAUP to apply stress to the team and build the trust-relationship between members. Completing it together tells the participants something about themselves and each other -- that we are a team and we can rely on each other.

Reach out to TIP today to talk about ways that we can help build trust within your team. Whether it is an hour-long group workout, or a half-day GORUCK event through GrowSchool, TIP can make your team and leaders stronger.

Dave Redding